There's an old saw in journalism that to write a good story you should show, not tell.
Essentially, if a story you're telling is particularly sad or funny that will come through if you just let your subjects talk. When someone says something amusing, that will come through. On the other side of that coin, when you try too hard to spell out what emotions the reader should be feeling, you're going to fail.
(An easy example of the latter is to write, after a quote, “he said with a laugh.” You make your subject sounds like some kind of weirdo forcing laughter after every sentence, rather than a real person chuckling in a conversation.)
Anyhow, this brings us to a new initiative promoting the importance of journalism to the public, sponsored by a group that includes the Globe and Mail, Postmedia, the Toronto Star, Ryerson University and Unifor.
To really sell the “important role journalism plays in democratic societies,” according to the Globe and Mail, they’re going to run a bunch of ads in print and on television. The campaign is called JournalismIS, and as a really awful mess mess of letters, I guess this is our way of bringing our industry into the present.
Having evidently decided doing good, interesting journalism just isn’t going to sell the public on why we should be kept around; it’s time we hand that over to the advertisers. According to the National Post, the ads will feature ten different buzzwords and buzzphrases, in the hopes the public is as stoked about gibberish as they are current events. These buzztrocities include, “relentless,” “telling the whole story”, and—this is the word salad that really lights my fire—“watchdog over the powerful.”
Sweet Jimminy Christmas, did it not occur to anyone at these news organizations that maybe instead of paying a bunch of money for some weenies to sit around shouting at a whiteboard maybe they should just stop being so fucking dull?
Here’s the first offering:
I’m curious what kind of person they expect to watch an ad like that, and then say to themselves, “You know, they’re right! I’ve been spending all this time reading interesting and accessible things in a way I want, but instead, I should pick up a newspaper. Mabel, get circulation on the line!”
I get that we have to counter the assertion, often from politicians (even oftener from conservative politicians), that the media is constantly looking to subvert the will of the people all the while saying we’re doing it in the public interest.
Maybe this is me being old fashioned, but I don’t know advertising is really the best way to convince people we’re important. It seems like if we did our jobs without an unbearable air of self-importance, people might be more inclined to read it.
It’s easy to tell when a journalist is convinced of the unimpeachable importance of what they’re writing about. You can tell because it’s boring. It’s too long. And built into every sentence is the assumption that you must give a shit, so it doesn’t bother to try and convince you.
You can see this in the comments by Mary Agnes Welch, who was as the launch of JournalismIS. “News is the lifeblood of our democracy,” she said. “As the volume of information and the range of opinion available to media consumers increase, the contribution of professional journalism has become more important than ever.”
The lifeblood of democracy. Never mind that we have a constitution and a Parliament and a whole democratic process, the news is the lifeblood of our democracy. You have to be pretty far up your own keester to say that out loud and really mean it.
Look, I don’t mean to say that journalism isn’t important. Politicians would get away with all sorts of horrible garbage, if it wasn’t for journalists poking around and bringing to light their various misdeeds. Without journalists everything we’d know about the world would just be spin.
But journalism doesn’t need to be so awful and boring. It can also be entertaining, and funny, and pointless, and, god forbid, enjoyable.
Beating our audience over the head with how important we all are really isn’t the way to get people to read the news.